Seoul - Ambitious China are out to prove that reaching the
third round of 2018 World Cup qualifying was no fluke when they take on bogey
side South Korea on Thursday.
China scraped through thanks to their shock 2-0 win over
Qatar and the Philippines' almighty 3-2 upset of North Korea on the last day of
It means that China, who boast Asia's most expensive league
and whose tycoons are snapping up football assets around the globe, are within
shouting distance of the World Cup in Russia.
The top two in each of Asia's two groups of six will qualify
for the World Cup, while the third-placed sides will face each other for the
right to play an intercontinental play-off.
Perennial under-achievers China have only ever reached one
World Cup, in 2002, but they have set their sights on hosting and even winning
First they will need to upset the odds against South Korea,
who have reached nine World Cups -- and have lost just once to China in the
past 30 years.
Coach Gao Hongbo said underdogs China were taking heart from
their women's volleyball team, who upset Serbia to win the gold medal at the
"Everyone in Korean football thinks that within Chinese
football we lack fighting spirit and we give up easily," Gao said,
according to the ESPN FC website.
"But I'm hoping this time we can show an improvement in
"China's women's volleyball team won the Olympic gold
medal as an underdog in Rio. They fought with solidarity, and realised all of
"They are the best role model for us, and we have been
inspired greatly by them. Now it is our show."
Also read: Rooney to end England career after 2018 World Cup
- China rising -
Some 30,000 Chinese fans are expected at Seoul World Cup
Stadium but hosts South Korea will start as strong favourites after they breezed
through the second round.
"There are no easy teams in the final round,"
warned Korea's coach Uli Steilike, according to Yonhap news agency. "China
have recently pulled up their FIFA rankings and they are a competitive
Asian champions Australia open with a tricky assignment
against Iraq in Perth before flying to UAE, where they will play Mahdi Ali's
talented side on Tuesday.
"We kind of pride ourselves on being already prepared
for the challenges, then nothing is a surprise," said coach Ange Postecoglou,
according to the Socceroos website.
"We've trialled this kind of scenario of playing in
Australia and going into the Middle East a couple of days later. We know
exactly what works, we know exactly how our players adapt."
UAE, organisers of the next Asian Cup, also have a
globe-trotting schedule as they play Japan in Saitama on Thursday before
heading home to face Australia.
Also on Thursday, Iran take on 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar in
a heavyweight clash in Tehran.
Thursday's games kick off a series of home and away fixtures
which finishes in September next year.For
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